"I have no time to exercise..."
It's the most common reason in the world. And it's a fair one - with family commitments, hectic work schedules and overwhelming external responsibilities, how the hell do you find time to work out?
But examine this reason closer and you may uncover something deeper. There may be a lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment, negative associations or misaligned values.
In this article I'll dig into some of the psychology behind a lack of time, and I'll also provide practical advice around finding time for your fitness.
Scroll down if you'd like to jump straight to the practical tips and tricks.
Life and Priorities
In an interview, Hugh Jackman described his realisation that in his lifetime he'll never get to read all of the books he wants to. There's just too many, and there's only so many hours in the day. With this realisation, he started devoting 30-minutes every morning to reading, and even though he won't read everything, at least he'll have done his best.
Busy as you may be, you always find time for what matters.
Most of us know the immense and wide-reaching benefits of physical fitness, mostly to do with our bodies and functionality. Adding to this, new research coming out on the science of happiness states that there are 4 factors which contribute to our feelings of happiness and mental wellbeing:
- Social connections
- Safety and security
- A sense of meaning and purpose
- Physical health
Again, we know just how important health and fitness is. Then why is it so difficult to act on this information?
This is called cognitive dissonance - when our actions and decisions don't match out thoughts, beliefs or values.
We want to be fit and healthy, but don't do anything towards it. It's a crap feeling to have, like you're self-sabotaging yourself. It's as if you have two personalities fighting against each other - one wants to be healthy and thrive while the other wants things to stay as they are, making excuses and rationalisations to do so.
Cognitive dissonance is extremely stressful and frustrating - it's valuable to work through.
Many people are also in denial about their fitness, thinking it will be fine or that they will get around to it someday. Stephen Covey's matrix (Covey, 1989) places health and fitness in the non-urgent/important sector. We know it's important, but since it's not urgent right now it gets surpassed by other things like emails, deadlines and putting out fires.
The interesting theory behind this matrix is that the more time you spend in Quadrant 2, the fewer things tend to pop up in Quadrant 1. Preparation, planning, health-related activities, me time - they all result in fewer problems.
And the fear and negative associations regarding your health may be better redirected towards what will happen if you don't exercise.
Will you have time for multiple doctor appointments?
Will you have time to take medication everyday to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes?
How will this impact your associations with your health and happiness, knowing you could have done something about it?
As importantly, what do you have to gain from exercise? How will it impact everything else?
The Path of Least Resistance
Making things easier is in our nature. For example, take a look at technology. All of the innovations in the last 10 years have revolved around making daily life a more fluid experience. The human experience likes the path of least resistance.
Unfortunately, this path is not usually associated with fitness.
Fitness means hard work. Fitness means sacrifice. Fitness means changing your life.
Or does it?
When faced with the challenges of cognitive dissonance, being time poor and having other things fighting for your attention, it's a good idea to reassess your meaning of fitness.
There's lots of examples of 'perfect' workout programs and diets to get the 'best' results. But in the case of you and your life, 'perfect' is going to look very different.
Does fitness really have to be hard work, include sacrifice and make you change your life?
And once this is done, ask the important question: "how can I take the path of least resistance."
Many of the tips and strategies below follow this simple philosophy of making it as easy as possible to include fitness in your everyday life. It may be a good idea to just pick 1-2 options which seem the best for you and start there. Then, once you feel confident, pick another 1-2 more.
Here are 15 of the most promising tips and strategies to help you find more time for your fitness
Timing and Planning
1. Train in the morning
Your day is likely to only get more demanding as it goes on. Doing something for your fitness first thing in the morning, whether it's a gym session or a 15-minute walk, ensures you fit it in.
2. Schedule your fitness like you schedule your business meetings
Put them down in writing in your diary or make a repeating event in your phone calendar. By treating it like an important business meeting (with yourself) you can schedule other events around it, instead of trying to schedule your fitness around everything else.
3. Have a plan for unexpected extra time
There may be times where you suddenly find yourself with 20-minutes, and you want to exercise, but you don't know what to do so instead that 20-minutes is spent flicking through social media.
'If-then' plans work well here:
- If I have 10-minutes, I'll walk around the block.
- If I have 25-minutes, I'll go through this exact bodyweight workout.
- If I have an hour, I'll power walk to the park, do these exercises, and power walk back.
4. Assess how you spend your time
A reflective look at your day and how you spend your time may highlight some easy ways you could fit in more fitness.
I spent 30-minutes on that call to my business partner today, next time I'll stand and pace around the office as we chat.
I sat and watched the kids soccer practice, is there a way I could get involved next time?
My 'Screen Time' app says I spend 1 hour and 14 minutes on social media today, could I use that time more wisely?
This cycle of reflection, learning and implementing is a fundamental way we develop over time.
Where to Start
5. Start small
Even if your day is packed, there's a good chance you can etch out 5-minutes for yourself. A 5-minute walk can easily transform into a 30-minute walk with time. If the idea of finding time for fitness seems insurmountable, it might be that you need to start smaller.
6. Timed breakouts
It's generally accepted that you shouldn't sit for more than an hour at a time. Set a timer at your desk (I use 'Be Focused') and between work blocks stand up and move. You can take a toilet break, do a few of your favourite stretches or even chuck in a few bodyweight exercises. It won't be enough to make you sweat, but doing it multiple times every day soon adds up.
7. Walking is exercise
Walking is the most underrated exercise available. It's free, often convenient and low impact. It's also easy to track for those who love challenges and data, with most phones and smart watches having in-built activity trackers.
8. Choose convenience
Aim to make it as convenient to exercise as possible (which is why walking works so well). Choose a convenient gym to join, always have your shoes at the door and keep healthy food readily available. Think about that path of least resistance we talked about earlier.
Fitting in Fitness
9. Brisk business
Walking meetings are becoming a popular way to add fitness to your day without needing to find any extra time. There's a good chance that many of your co-workers are in the same position as you: they want to exercise, but struggle to find the time.
10. Social activity
Next time a friend suggests going out for lunch, dinner or drinks, counter with an active invitation. How about going for a walk along the beach, or a hike through the national park?
11. Active TV
Lounging in front of the TV is relaxing and well-deserved after a hard day. The average Australian watches 2 hours and 27 minutes of TV a day. This is a fair bit of time and provides a nice opportunity to get through some stretches and bodyweight exercises, all while still finding out who is eliminated in the Bachelor.
12. Sweat while your kids are sweating
Most kids get involved in some type of sports or activity. This usually means you're there watching them. This provides the perfect opportunity to either get involved in their sport, or use the time to do your own workout.
13. Outsource time
Is there something that you do, maybe a menial task, that you could outsource to someone else and free up some of your time to use elsewhere. I've seen people outsource their dirty laundry, use a meal delivery service and make use of gyms which offer a creche service.
14. Get a dog
A dog is a big commitment, and there should be more reasons to getting one, but it provides to responsibility to go for a walk at least once (sometimes twice) every day. Plus, dogs are awesome.
15. Take it on the road
Going on a holiday or business trip? Pack your workout gear. Just packing them signals your brain that you have the intention to exercise. Lots of hotels and resorts have their own gyms.
The Underlying Factor of Enjoyment
We like to do things we enjoy. There's nothing new in that.
If this fitness thing is going to be a part of your life, you should find something that gives you at least a little bit of joy, engagement or purpose.
If you like dancing... go and dance.
If you enjoy cooking... find healthy recipes and go to town.
If you're a social bee... choose a team sport, cycle group or walking club.
It doesn't have to be the 'best' exercise. It has to be the best for you.
Book in a health coaching session with myself if you'd like to work out what this looks like for you.
Covey, S. R. (1989) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster
Hugh Jackman interview